The Buffalo Bills travel to the western end of Lake Erie this week to take on the Cleveland Browns. The teams last met in 2016, and the Bills pummeled the then-winless Browns, winning 33-13. Cleveland finished that year 1-15, while the Bills finished 7-9.
This year, the Bills and the Browns once again meet up on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their overall records. Buffalo is 6-2 and in firm control of their playoff destiny, while Cleveland is 2-6 and clinging desperately to any hope of avoiding another lost season.
Cleveland is favored to win the game this week despite their record, opening as 2.5-point favorites early this week. The following list of Bills players are the ones we think will play key roles in sending the Browns to their seventh loss of the year.
QB Josh Allen
This weekend represents his first attempt at beating fellow 2018 first-round draft choice Baker Mayfield in a head-to-head match-up. Sure, the quarterbacks don’t directly play one another and, yes, football is a team game. However, the comparisons between Allen and Mayfield are inevitable, and Allen will absolutely be extra motivated to best a player drafted six slots ahead of him two Aprils ago. While Allen has improved in nearly every statistical category during his second professional season, the opposite can be said for Mayfield, who has followed up a strong rookie campaign with a dismal second year. Allen has done a great job mitigating his “hero ball” tendencies while elevating his accuracy and completion rate; however, he has still struggled with ball security, as evidenced by his league-leading five lost fumbles. He’s second in fumbles overall with ten, trailing only Gardner Minshew II for the league lead. Allen will need to continue making plays this weekend in order for the Bills to prevail, but he will also need to improve his ball security if he wants to take the next step towards greatness.
WR John Brown
Buffalo’s top wideout is on pace for a career-best season. After eight games, Brown has 42 catches, 603 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. If he continues on this pace, he’ll set new career-highs in receptions (on pace for 84) and yards (on pace for 1,206) while falling short of his career-high in touchdowns, which is seven. Brown was used mainly as a deep threat on previous teams, but he’s had the chance to prove he is much more than that during his half-season in Buffalo. He might not be the prototype “No. 1” receiver, but he is the top dog in Buffalo’s passing game, and he’s done a great job in that role. Against a Cleveland secondary allowing only 216 passing yards per game, he’ll have his hands full this week. If he can beat Cleveland’s corners consistently, the Bills should have a big day offensively.
LT Dion Dawkins
Buffalo’s blindside protector has a tough match-up this week against phenomenal pass-rushing right defensive end Myles Garrett. Dawkins has been solid this year, but the third-year tackle still has plenty of room for improvement. Dawkins has committed six penalties on the year and allowed three sacks so far. While that isn’t great, it puts him on a better pace than last season, when he committed 13 penalties and allowed seven sacks. Against an emerging star like Garrett, Dawkins may need some help to keep Allen clean. If Garrett is able to impose his will on Dawkins, he has the potential to derail Buffalo’s offense entirely. Dawkins needs to have a great game on Sunday.
DT Corey Liuget
I really want to watch all of the defensive tackles this week—in fact, I wrote Jordan Phillips, deleted it, then wrote Ed Oliver and deleted that before settling on the new guy. The fact of the matter is that Buffalo has been pretty terrible against the run for the better part of the last eight quarters, and while the team definitely looked better in the second half against Washington, they clearly weren’t satisfied with the personnel they had. Enter Liuget, a former first-round draft choice of the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers who was recently released by the Oakland Raiders. I’m interested to see how many snaps Liuget sees, but I’m also interested to see whether he merely rotates in for starting one-tech Star Lotulelei or if he is paired with Lotulelei in obvious run situations. A talented veteran, Liuget will be a solid depth piece at worst, but he has the potential to help a stellar Bills defense achieve far greater than it has thus far.
CB Taron Johnson
Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield has struggled, and part of the reason has been a porous offensive line. The pass rush will obviously be important, but the corners will have their hands full in covering Cleveland’s talented receivers, led by Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The latter is a slot receiver known around Buffalo for head-hunting Bills defensive backs, namely Aaron Williams and Johnson, with the latter hit coming in a preseason game, no less. Johnson will probably find himself across from Landry early and often this week, and if the Bills can trust him to take Landry out of the game, it will allow the defense to focus elsewhere, perhaps by giving Tre’Davious White some help on Beckham.